Iron Gods - Mike Korupp

Journal of Shadow Mal 11

Entry 151, Day 35, Noon.

We decided to assault Bird Food anyway. His small band of enforcers were both incompetent and unconscious, and he died in his bed, though he did manage to keep his sword in his hand. Since I had subdued the birds with magic we were able to hood them and leave them, where I presume someone will claim them and either use or cook them. It is somewhat melancholy to abandon someone’s pets to the whims of whatever mad locals in this total anarchy find them, but I am not in the business of bird rescue and have no interest in dealing with an irate raptor.

Besides, as Zex once told me, “if you can’t keep a pet turtle alive, pet-having probably isn’t for you.” Sorry Mr. Lumpy, but you taught me an important life lesson.

Anyway, after the assassination of the local boss we looted and left. I am once again forced to contemplate the nature of the work I find myself doing. It is an easy thing, mistaking the quickest path for the best one, but I do not believe that mutilating, murdering sadists and slave-takers are something that can be redeemed. More to the point, this place was a mad orgy of violence, tyranny, and chaos long before we came here, our primary goal is to make that violence and chaos stop spilling over into other lands.

That said, my sardonic commentary is troubling Flynn. As a faithful follower of Father Apsu AND a card-carrying goody-two-shoes he has certain expectations and I suppose I have certain obligations. I shall endeavor to be more diplomatic with my comments when we do not-nice things to not-nice people. It is a duty that comes with the magic, after all, and I should never shirk.

Moving to another camp site, I set my tent up several feet off the ground. It might be troublesome at first, but it is so very comfortable to know that bugs and rats will have a harder time joining me in my repose.

The next morning, in the uncomfortably-bright sunrise, we spotted fresh attackers seeking to, well, I am not even sure what they wanted. A foul gestalt entity known (apparently) as a Rat King assailed us with its swarming rat minions. The beast was several large (though not dire-sized) rats whose tails and (somehow) minds had merged, creating a cunning bestial intelligence and power over creatures that shared their kind. I spat lightning upon the swarming minions, and with other assaults we destroyed or dispersed what remained. This was an inauspicious beginning to the day, as we were planning on meeting with another group of rat-like creatures, the surviving ratfolk families of Redtooth Warren.

The misfortune that our morning battle suggested fell upon the Redtooth Raiders, however, as they were being assaulted by gun-toting smilers. We rendered assistance and healed their wounded, earning a quick and useful rapport with them within moments of arriving in their embattled territory. Having seen large numbers of guns in action twice now, I have some observations. But more on that later.

The Redtooth are being wiped out, those who have not been impressed by the Lords of Rust are being slaughtered by them and their minions. It seems they were once quite powerful, and I suspect they have been targeted for complete destruction for that very reason. Seeing these folk up close and not at the end of pointed weapons calls to my memory the tales of the Nezumi, a legendary race of rat-like shifters. They too were know for their survivor’s grit and onerous tenacity, but they were also fading in the face of pitiless enemies.

The Redtooth raiders are led by Redtooth the raider, and looking at her I see her will fraying under the strain. It seems one of their few remaining strengths has been lost to kidnapping Smilers. Her cousin, Whiskeyfist? Was (hopefully still is) an animal trainer who had tamed and taught several rust monsters. Only one of his pets remains in the warren, but if they could reclaim the beasts and their master, the Raiders could tunnel anywhere, including the bases of the Lords of Rust. It is believed that they too have underground tunnels, burrowed through metal and rock, and accessing them could prove useful.

Whiskeyfist is kept in the Smilers’ clubhouse, apparently near their bar (is that irony? I always forget) and without the Smilers dead and any prisoners repatriated the Redtooth will be in no position to help us. This is not surprising, interfering with a military struggle inevitably requires a military intervention. Redtooth was able to tell us that their leadership includes a purported necromancer and an extremely strong ogre-kin named Gun-shy. It seems that guns “scare” him, and he reacts violently.

Sadly, the Redtooth usually work at night, so any assault by night would be expected. As such we will be marching in under broad daylight, when their gang is most likely to be taking a siesta. Flynn is expressing misgivings at the coming slaughter, which I can understand. Just because the Redtooth are victims does not mean they are not villains in their own right, the Skulks under Torch are a recent example of the many shades of darker morality. But the Smilers serve the Lords of Rust, and the Lords of Rust are sending strikes against other people. The cycle of violence is unlikely to end with the fall of Hellion, but it will be more contained if we can do so.

On another note, guns. These devices are powerful, like spell attacks, but so easy to use and without any magic. They cause quite a bit of fear and consternation, and from what I have seen they are easy (at least, relatively speaking) to learn to use. More easy, at least, than archery or spellcrafting. But on reflection their use in battle is weaker, or at best equal to the deployment of weak combat spells or well-trained bowmen. Harkness’ skill is impressive, and he has made claim to great skill and impressive martial prowess in previous lives, but I begin to suspect the real kick to guns is that you can use them easily. Moreover from conversations regarding the black powder he uses to make his weapons work, I believe that it is a greater development than he realizes. A packaged fireball that takes no magical prowess to make or deploy is a packaged fireball that cannot be tracked. Magic users are few, and can be hunted, but if any fool can carry a keg of boom-juice then any fool can be a powerful threat.

I have mixed feelings toward this. I have seen the injustices of mad aristocrats and the stupidity of populist fools; which is better, I cannot say.

Ugh, all these thoughts of politics and complicated morality questions, I will be glad to quit this mess we call Scrapwall. Too much fighting, too few clear lines, and no hope of truly making this place a better place, merely restoring a balance so that it’s violence remains contained. Would that we had more devils to face, those beasts are unambiguous in their evil.

On a more amusing note, Vidon proved quite good at subterfuge when properly motivated. When we assaulted Birdfood’s little garrison he opened hostilities by pretending to be drunk, stumbling right up to the guards, and getting them to lower their guard by offering them a drink from his keg of dwarven ale. One broken mug and 3 cracked skulls later the guards were all down and we could slip in without the alarm being raised. I should get him a reinforced steel one, in case he ever feels the need for a proper battle mug.

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shilkund

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